Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 11/29/2010
1:44 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Yes, ma’am.
Q Thanks. We have the statement that you put out yesterday condemning the WikiLeaks release, but what was the reaction from the President when someone informed him yesterday that these documents had come out and reports were coming out about the contents of the documents?
MR. GIBBS: I was not in the PDB when the President was directly briefed on this. This would actually not have been yesterday, but would have been sometime last week when -- after we became aware of the upcoming release. The President was briefed by those in his daily intelligence briefing on the size the scope of the information that was to become public. And obviously, the Secretary of State and the State Department at a foreign minister level have been very active in discussions with our allies and our partners around the world about what is in these documents.
I think it is safe to say that the President was -- it’s an understatement -- not pleased with this information becoming public. As you saw during the presidential campaign and during his time in the White House, open and transparent government is something that the President believes is truly important. But the stealing of classified information and its dissemination is a crime.
Q Have any world leaders called him to talk about the release or to complain about the contents of --
MR. GIBBS: The calls have originated -- the calls that our government has made have originated from the State Department and the Secretary of State, so I would refer you more specifically to them. The President has not been on the phone around this.
Q Will he speak on this at all? Will he speak -- will he comment publicly on this issue?
MR. GIBBS: There are no plans for him to talk about this today, no.
Q Robert, I know administration officials have been out there today talking about ways to tighten up the procedures --
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q -- or handling this material.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q But why was the information so vulnerable to being stolen in the first place?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think we have for -- and I speak a little bit for previous administrations, as well -- there is always the balance of need to know and need to share. If you look at one of the main critiques in the pre-9/11 intelligence world was a difficulty in information-sharing about threats up and down and across different government platforms. That is something that I think each and every administration struggles with.
Understand that we want soldiers on the front lines of battle to have the most up-to-date intelligence that's possible about the enemy that they face, the tactics that they use. That's important. It is obvious, though, that serious controls and oversight have to be in place in order to balance, as I said earlier, the need to know and the need to share.
Specifically the Department of Defense has made it much more difficult for somebody to get access to and to copy and move both this type and this volume of information, disabling the ability to, for instance, plug in a thumb drive or a CD and copy vast amounts of information; limiting the access to certain documents based on rank; greater oversight.
All of those things as well as -- I don't know if you all heard the statement that the Secretary of State just made where she announced a similar review at the State Department, as well as Jack Lew’s memo to agencies reminding them of how one handles sensitive and classified information, and to convene groups to ensure that the best practices are being used, and to evaluate whether those practices are sufficient to ensure that this type of information isn’t released.
Q I also wanted to ask you about tomorrow’s meeting with Republicans. It’s a one-hour meeting from what we understand. And I’m wondering what you think can be accomplished in that one hour. You’ve talked about the tax cuts being the top issue and START. Is it possible to really make a lot of progress on both of those issues in one hour? And also why was it downgraded from an initial invitation to dinner?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we obviously had an invitation several weeks ago that didn't work with the schedules of Republican leaders in the House and the Senate. And there are also caucus meetings that go on in the early afternoon which limit the amount of time that we have. But that's not to say that this is the first and only meeting. I think this is the first of many, many meetings over the course of the next several years as Democrats and Republicans, the White House and Congress are going to have to work together to solve some very difficult problems.
You mentioned I think two that will be on the forefront of the President’s mind -- first and foremost, ensuring that taxes for middle-class Americans don't go up at the end of the year. And our safety and security as it relates to nuclear nonproliferation and the reduction of deployed nuclear weapons is also something that the President will be focused on in that meeting.
But I think this is the beginning of a new relationship with leaders in the House and the Senate. I think this is the beginning of a longer-term conversation about how we get to compromises on issues that we know are important for the American people.
Q Specifically on the tax cuts, though, do you expect there to be tangible progress. Do you expect there to be some kind of announcement?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think this is the beginning of a conversation. I don't think this will be the last conversation that this group has on taxes this year. The President is clear, and I think many are clear, that we have to address this problem before the end of the year. We've got the expiring Bush tax cuts; you’ve got AMT tax relief; you’ve got a host of other things like unemployment insurance that's going to expire later this week -- which we have to address, some obviously in the short term and some certainly in the medium term, if you assume that medium term means before the end of the year.
I think this is an ongoing conversation, not the -- certainly not the last.
Q Is the President worried because of the WikiLeaks disclosure that other countries will no longer be candid with American diplomats? And is the President worried that countries like Yemen or the Gulf states will now be forced into a position where they are publicly not cooperating with American efforts either against AQAP in Yemen or against Iran’s nuclear program?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think for obvious legal reasons I don't want to get into the specifics of these purported cables. I will say that while we -- and you’ve heard the statement that we released from me yesterday, the statement from the Secretary of State and from our Ambassador at the United Nations -- obviously a breach of these type of discussions is decidedly not good. That does not, however, change the fact that we have a series of problems that have to be addressed on the world stage, and that without -- it is hard to imagine progress on those issues without American leadership moving those forward.
You mentioned Iran. I think it’s important to -- let’s focus on that for a second. Iran is not a threat because we have said to other countries it is a threat and you should treat it as such. I think it is obvious that countries throughout the world, countries in North America, countries in Europe, countries in the Middle East all understand the threat that a nuclear Iran poses, again, not because we said it was a threat but because they recognize, either for regional stability or overall global stability, that dealing with their pursuit of a nuclear weapons program is a grave concern not just to us but also to them.
I do not believe that the release of these documents impacts our ability to conduct a foreign policy that moves our interests forward and addresses both regional and global concerns about the issues that threaten this world.
Q Is the administration considering taking legal action against WikiLeaks itself?
MR. GIBBS: I would say two things. Obviously there is an ongoing criminal investigation about the stealing of and the dissemination of sensitive and classified information. Secondly, under the administration -- or I would say -- should say administration wide, we are looking at a whole host of things, and I wouldn’t rule anything out.
Q Can I ask a question about the spending freeze? Does the President believe --
MR. GIBBS: The pay freeze.
Q Pay freeze, I’m sorry. Does the President believe that the size of the federal government is too big?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me say this, Jake, that we are in the process of putting together and ultimately releasing early next year a budget for the next fiscal year which lays out several fiscal years beyond that. We have taken steps to, as you heard the President mention today, cut programs that are unnecessary and unwise, and believes that we should -- we have to continue to do that. Our government should be lean and efficient, and the actions that the President outlined today and the actions that he has outlined in both previous budgets and in future budgets will meet that test.
Q But doesn’t the President believe that you can’t really get a hold of the deficit or the debt unless you actually start making cuts in programs that are necessary and wise?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think a -- I think there’s a whole host of decisions, again, as you heard the President say, that are going to have to be made in the next year or two years or three years to address a problem it took us many years to get into. Jake, I think -- look, the President did not say today that this action alone will solve our deficit problems. There are a series of actions alone that won’t solve our deficit problems. But we have to make a series of collective but very difficult decisions to get our fiscal house in order.
Obviously the deficit and debt commission will come back later this week and the President will get a chance to, and the team here, to evaluate where we are in that process as we create a budget going forward.
Q You called the leak of this classified information “not good,” but how does the White House view it? Is it more of a headache than it is anything of a serious nature?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Dan, I don’t -- I think obviously it is a very serious -- it’s a serious crime, first and foremost. It is -- I don’t think anybody would stand here and tell you this isn’t a concern about security. This is a concern that, as you heard the Secretary of State discuss, some of these -- some of this information could contain names of people that are working with our government to help on issues like human rights, on issues of democracy, in places where those aren’t so easy to work on.
So, again, I don’t think anybody would stand up here and tell you that this isn’t a serious concern. At the same time, I do not believe it does and I do not believe we could ever afford to let it greatly impact our ability to pursue a foreign policy that's in our interest and in the interest of the world. And I think we have touched on and we have talked about several issues -- counterterrorism, the spread of nuclear weapons, a whole host of things -- that demand our attention, demand our engagement, and we’ll continue to receive it.
Q These documents also purport to highlight discussions about North Korea, the collapse of North Korea, reunification of the Peninsula. How do you think this kind of information could impact the tense situation in that region?
MR. GIBBS: I’m going to break these issues slightly apart. Obviously for the first reason, Dan, in order to handle sensitive and classified information as government, I’ve got to sign an oath. There's a safe in my office in the event that I keep any of that information. I’m not going to break the law and discuss openly what may or may not be in sensitive or classified cables.
We are working -- there have been meetings throughout the weekend, meetings again here today to discuss the ongoing situation on the Korean Peninsula. We continue to urge China to use its influence and persuasion with the North Koreans to address their behavior and to address the serious problems that arose last week.
The information that may or may not be on the Internet doesn’t affect our ability to continue to focus on that. As obviously you heard the President say there's not a stronger ally in that region of the world than the Republic of Korea.
Q And just one more question on the meeting tomorrow. You talked about this being the beginning of a new relationship with Congress, and Republicans in particular. What makes you -- what gives you the confidence that at some point soon down the road you’ll be, I guess, holding hands in bipartisanship when you haven’t been able to accomplish that to a great success over the last two years?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say this, Dan. We can take this in sort of two tranches. One, you’ve got between now and the end of the year when we know the biggest issue is the economy and tax cuts. We’re going to have to come to an agreement on that or taxes for the middle class are going to go up, something the President absolutely doesn’t want to see. And if others in Congress don’t want to see that, then we’re forced to -- we’re going to be forced to make a series of decisions that prevent that from happening. That’s going to be the basis for and the beginning of those conversations, starting tomorrow.
Next year, the House will be controlled by the Republicans, the Senate by the Democrats, and the presidency obviously unchanged, which by definition means to make progress on issues, to get legislation through Congress, it’s going to take bipartisanship.
I continue to believe that if you look at a sampling of public opinion after both right at the point of this election and afterwards, that you’re led to the clear understanding that the American people want us to work together. They understand what’s important for the American people and they want to see two political parties that have legitimate differences work together for the common good of the people of this country. And that’s what the President will bring to that meeting tomorrow, and I expect that leaders from both the parties will do the same.
Q Robert, you said earlier that you have to balance the need to know and the need to share. You talked about after 9/11, one of the big problems was there wasn’t enough sharing of information and also that troops in the field need all the information that they can get. Are you suggesting that in a free society, if you have a bad actor someplace, perhaps a threat -- that these things are simply going to happen and you simply can’t stop it from happening?
MR. GIBBS: Well, no. I think two things, Chip. First of all, obviously there are -- regardless of the walls that you set up, there are certainly going to be occasions in which people do not take their oath to their country seriously about protecting the access that they have or the information that they’re given that is either sensitive or highly classified. I think that's been true for the history of our country.
The responsibility that our administration and every administration has, though, is to ensure that legitimate safeguards are put in place in order to ensure that the access that is provided is warranted based on your ability to get that information and what’s your ability to take that information off of a website and copy it, or copy it thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of times. I think those are the types of things that can, should, and must be put in place to ensure that while there is access for information for those decision-makers and soldiers and such that need it, while ensuring some protection for the public good.
Q You also said earlier that the President is not making any calls; the calls are being made at State. But some of -- a lot of these leaks have to do, pertain directly to leaders -- Putin and Berlusconi, for example, and Medvedev and Sarkozy and King Abdullah. Isn’t he going to have to address them directly, personally, at some point?
MR. GIBBS: I don't doubt that -- look, first and foremost, I think what is being conveyed by the Secretary of State and by those at the State Department is -- are directly the messages from the President of the United States. They are his partners in carrying out our country’s foreign policy.
And I don't doubt that if world leaders are here or if he has occasion to speak to them, that he won't reassure our partners and our allies of our common goals, our common security and our common efforts to seek both of those. I was just simply saying, Chip, that the President has not up to this point made a series of proactive calls. Those calls are being handled at State.
Q Would it be fair to say that -- not that you're downplaying the story exactly, but you're not using words like “outraged.” You're using words like the President was “not pleased,” this release is “not good.”
MR. GIBBS: I think in one of those I said that I thought this was a pretty broad understatement. Look, I think if --
Q What would be the non-understatement?
MR. GIBBS: I think that this is a serious violation of the law. This is a serious threat to individuals that both carry out and assist in our foreign policy. And again, I'm not here to downplay the overall seriousness of information that, again, is classified for a reason. But I'm also, Chip, here to say that the problems that the world has -- be they countries that seek nuclear weapons, be they non-state actors that seek to do our country and other countries in the world harm -- that simply the release of these documents does not change our posture and our effort in seeking to contain that terrorist threat, in seeking to continue to make progress on non-proliferation, to address the threat that those countries pose that seek nuclear weapons outside of the responsibilities that they have signed up for.
We will continue to, and our diplomats who do great work all over this world will continue to work each and every day to further the interests of this country, to further the interests of our people, and to further the interests of global security.
Q Robert, is there some thought that the President doesn’t want to speak about WikiLeaks publicly perhaps because you don’t want to elevate the leaker, you don’t want to elevate WikiLeaks itself, or perhaps even inspire a potential future leaker by making this a bigger a deal?
MR. GIBBS: Mike, look, I think this is a sufficiently big enough deal that the President has been briefed on this, it has been a cause and concern for many here at the White House over the past many days. It’s garnered the attention of both the State Department and the Defense Department. I think it’s -- suffice to say I think this administration thinks it’s a big deal.
Q But, I mean, you don’t want to inspire more leaks by making it even more famous by having the President of the United States come out and speak?
MR. GIBBS: I think there’s probably less “strategery” around that than you might think.
Q You talked a little bit about the need to know, need to share. Is something like WikiLeaks the unfortunate outgrowth of a need-to-share intelligence culture?
MR. GIBBS: I think we should be clear here. WikiLeaks and people that disseminate information to people like this are criminals, first and foremost. And I think that needs to be clear.
We balance, as I said and you mentioned back to me, the need to share and the need to know because they're important. Again, we want to ensure that a patrol in Afghanistan has the very best intelligence, the very up-to-date operational knowledge for what they're walking into. But I do not think that we should -- this is not -- these are some of the challenges that we deal with. But understand that, first and foremost, those that have been involved in the stealing of and the dissemination of this information are criminals.
Q Finally, on the pay freeze, the timing of it, is that intended to show Republicans that -- a willingness to compromise on tough issues and perhaps set a tone ahead of the meeting?
MR. GIBBS: I would say this? The timing has everything to do with the fact that decisions had to be made by the end of the month or pay raises -- different information transpires that leads to an increase in pay, which the President froze today.
I will say that I think -- whether it’s freezing the pay of federal employees, whether it’s looking for inefficiency or waste, I think this is an area under which Democrats and Republicans ought to be able to work together.
This was not intended to have anything to do with either the fiscal commission or the meeting tomorrow, but I think it does -- it certainly highlights the fact that for all the back-and-forth and for all the “this side versus that side,” there are some things that we believe in common and we’re going to have to find those areas and move those compromises forward to make any progress.
Q First on WikiLeaks. You’ve used “purported” cables; Secretary Clinton used “alleged” cables. Is it fair to say no administration person is going to confirm these on the record? Is that --
MR. GIBBS: That is -- I can on the record confirm that that’s likely to happen.
Q -- why this language is going to be used and it’s going to be used from here? Fair enough. You seem to imply -- and maybe I misheard -- that the leaks were a threat to national security, but that it would not impact foreign policy.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I said it is a threat to -- it’s a threat to those that are mentioned in the cables. There's a -- look, there's a security breach involved. Again, I think -- I'd point you to the Secretary of State --
Q I guess I want you to go to the second part, which is this idea that it won’t impact foreign policy.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I use the example of Iran. Again, they’re a threat to our security; they’re a threat to Middle East stability; they’re a threat to countries throughout the world not because our diplomat told some other country’s diplomat, hey, Iran is a threat. Iran is a threat because of their pursuit of not a peaceful nuclear power program but an elicit nuclear weapons program. That is -- those are common interests that we share in ensuring that a country like that doesn’t have the ability to make progress on that program.
Q But on Yemen?
MR. GIBBS: On what?
Q On the cables about Yemen?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I’m not at liberty to legally discuss --
Q You just went on and on about Iran, saying that this is not --
MR. GIBBS: Chuck, Iran --
Q -- that the cables are proof that this is not a U.S. --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, Iran is a -- I think you can look at your outlet or almost any outlet in this room and figure out that there is a common concern about nuclear proliferation in Iran. I can discuss Iran and the threat that it poses without ever talking about a purported cable.
Q Then I guess to go back -- not impacting foreign policy, WikiLeaks is going to damage our foreign policy with -- our interactions with the country of Yemen, is it not?
MR. GIBBS: I will say that without, again, getting into the specifics of Yemen, that it is not just this country alone that shares a great concern about al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the actors that are involved in that organization, and the harm and threat that they seek to export on a daily basis. Those are common concerns. They’re common counterterrorism threats that will be met with a sense of common purpose in dealing with worldwide.
Q Did the President know about the State Department-approved -- or reported or alleged State Department-approved spying on United Nations individuals?
MR. GIBBS: I think I addressed that earlier and I would point you to what Susan Rice said that we -- our diplomats are diplomats. We’re very proud of the work that our diplomats do in furthering our interests, in furthering the interests of the world, and I’d leave it at that.
Q So there’s no other -- should there be an investigation? Are you guys going to be looking into any --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have --
Q Can I do one question on tomorrow’s meeting? The Republicans seem to have a negotiating stance on the Bush-era tax cuts. Is there a unified Democratic position that you guys are representing?
MR. GIBBS: What --
Q They seem to want some sort of extension -- they want full extension. Is there a unified Democratic position?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- I mean, I think there’s a unified position among most Democrats that I’ve seen that we simply cannot afford to borrow $700 billion to extend the tax cuts of those that make a million or a billion dollars a year, or make in excess of $250,000 a year. We can’t have an honest discussion about our debts and our deficits without understanding what those decisions mean in the short term and in the long term.
Q What about the short term?
MR. GIBBS: In the short term, the President’s position and I think the position of those in Congress is -- the Democrats in Congress is we need to ensure for the American people in the middle class that their taxes is not going up -- their taxes are not going up at the end of this year. And the President strongly believes that this is a perfect time to make permanent for the middle class those tax cuts. That’s what the President will discuss tomorrow. And I think if there’s agreement on that, that seems like something that we can move forward.
Q Do we expect some sort of tax deal tomorrow --
MR. GIBBS: No, no. I will say this --
Q -- or what you’re saying is it’s only the first conversation; you expect more meetings.
MR. GIBBS: I got to say this is not -- I do not expect a summit where --
Q No Camp David.
MR. GIBBS: I know much to your chagrin. (Laughter.) Again, I think this is the beginning of the conversation. I do not expect that we’ll come out after an hour or an hour and a half and have full agreement on this. I think -- I hope there’s agreement on the notion of how important it is to get this done by the end of the year.
Q On the pay freeze, I know you were saying, and earlier Mr. Zients was saying that this was driven by this deadline by the end of this month. But Mr. Obama, the President, said that, “my hope is that starting today we can begin a bipartisan conversation about our future,” as if this was the first -- an opening gesture in the conversation.
MR. GIBBS: I think what he was referring to is what I referred to a few moments ago, and that is I think that if you laid out ideas, you would see some commonality in -- I think prior to or including today, you’ve seen commonality on each side of the aisle in freezing the pay of federal employees. I don’t doubt that there are other issues. And the President hopes there are more issues that we can find common agreement on.
Again, the decision that was announced today was not driven by, as I said a minute ago, either the meeting on Tuesday or the fiscal commission’s report on Wednesday. It was due to a series of deadlines that you mentioned.
Q My question is, why does the President -- he did this with off-shore oil drilling, too. Why does the President go out and set -- and make these proposals at a podium instead of behind closed doors with your political adversaries in a negotiating position where you might be able to get something in return? What is the President getting in return by making this gesture?
MR. GIBBS: I think $2 billion in savings next year and $28 billion over five.
Q And he does not think that Democrats should try to actually extract some concessions from Republicans when he makes moves that anger the left? Because he has angered the left.
MR. GIBBS: Jonathan, I think on a daily basis we anger many people. That comes with the job of governing. The President makes a series of decisions that he thinks are in the best interest of the country and I think, as he said today, not focused on the next election, but focused on the next generation. That's why the President made the decision that he made with the deadline that we had -- not as a bargaining chip or a bargaining tool, but because it was the right thing to do.
Q How is the President going to prioritize the issues that he wants action on tomorrow? Is he going to try to seize the moment, the agenda on what he wants done in what order? Is it mainly dictated by the clock and these things -- the tax cuts that expire?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say that I think the first two issues that the President will speak on -- and I don't -- we’ll give you a sense of what they talked about fully tomorrow after the meeting. But I think, again, the economy and taxes are probably -- is without a doubt the number one issue, and a reduction in deployed nuclear weapons through passage of the New START treaty is -- I think would be second.
Q Is he going to suggest having these meetings at regular intervals as he did after he took office and it never happened?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we have had fairly regular meetings this past year. I don't want to get ahead of what he might say tomorrow, but I think it’s -- suffice to say that as I said earlier, this is the beginning of a new relationship that we have to get -- we have to make work on both sides for the American people. So I think this will be something that the President and leaders on both sides spend a lot of time on in the next couple years.
Q Robert, can you talk about the President’s meeting with Mike Duke of Walmart today and did he solicit Mr. Duke’s thoughts on an NEC director?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know on the latter. I can certainly check on the specifics of -- look, this is part of a series of ongoing meetings that the President has had for the last many, many months and will continue to have to solicit the ideas of some of the nation’s largest employers in ensuring our continued economic recovery.
I don’t have a readout of the exact set of issues that they spoke of, but it is fair to say that getting the insight and the ideas of those that employ so many is important to the economic decision-making that the President and the team will have to make.
Q Who initiated the meeting?
MR. GIBBS: I believe we did.
Q And is it -- so it’s part of the continuing outreach to business?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. Again, I’d point you back to lunches that have been had for going back to last year and certainly many months throughout the past year.
Q Okay. And does the President want to have an NEC director named before leaving for Hawaii?
MR. GIBBS: The President, when he -- the President is in the process of looking at and interviewing candidates and wants one as soon as possible. That’s certainly I think on his -- it’s our hope to get it done by then.
Q Okay, and one other question, different subject. On North Korea, what is the President’s assessment today, now, given the situation and the things that happened over the weekend? And does he still intend to call Hu Jintao?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, in terms of your second question, Roger, when we have something scheduled and a call transpires, we’ll let you know and we’ll read that out. But I don't have anything -- I don't have any guidance that updates me on that call.
Q Robert, you said that tax cuts and START were the two most important things -- priorities. Does that mean that the President thinks that the list of things Harry Reid has said he wants for the lame duck is just too long and --
MR. GIBBS: No, no. Again, I think I was asked from the point of view of what issues the President would prioritize. I do not think that's an exhaustive list of issues. There are obviously many. And let me leave that until we have a chance to discuss with you guys tomorrow what it is they did talk about.
Obviously, there are a number of issues that will surface throughout just this week alone that are also on the lame duck calendar.
Q Also in terms of -- you said it’s not -- the pay freeze isn’t a bargaining chip. But is it supposed to be a symbol of his seriousness? It’s symbolic. It’s only $5 billion over two years. Is it supposed to be a symbol of his seriousness about the deficit?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I keep thinking that $5 billion is actually a decent chunk of change. So I don't know that I would consider $5 billion to be symbolic. I think it’s a lot of money.
Q A down payment on his seriousness about the deficit? Or what --
MR. GIBBS: Well -- look, again, we’ve proposed a series of programs be cut or eliminated. We’ve proposed a non-security discretionary spending freeze; freeze in pay. I think all of these are emblematic of the steps that we have to take in order to get our fiscal house in order.
I would also point to the fact that what the Medicare trustees said health care reform does in terms of over the course of the next two decades, getting our fiscal house in order, that that’s a lot of money that is anything but symbolic. Those are substantial changes that add life to the Medicare trust fund.
Q Just one last question on the deficit commission. Assuming that they don't get 14 of 18 votes, how will you and how do you think we should evaluate the results? In other words, if they get only five votes, does that mean that there’s no hope for this? Or is 10 votes more important? How are you going --
MR. GIBBS: Mara, let me not prognosticate that on a Monday for a Wednesday release. I think we’ll have some time to talk about that as the report is released later this week.
Q -- along with what Mara is saying, you said it’s not an exhaustive list of priorities for the lame duck. But what Senator Kyl and some others say is that to get, for instance, START done could be a substantial amount of time on the floor. Therefore, you're going to have to prioritize that over other things that, for instance, Harry Reid has said he wants to do. I mean, at what point is the President going weigh in and say, I really want to get the START treaty; I think we're not going to be able to, say, do the DREAM Act or “don't ask, don't tell” or something else you want to do?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I don't think the President believes that -- going back to the bargaining chip question, I don't think we’re -- I think there’s importance on getting a lot of these things done. Again, there’s a survey that will be released tomorrow by the Pentagon on “don't ask, don't tell.” Obviously, the DREAM Act is a priority of this President’s. But at the same time, I don't think that -- first and foremost, I don't think that -- we’ve had 18 hearings in the Senate on START. This is -- this was a treaty that was agreed to in April and there have been countless briefings up on Capitol Hill about where we stand on this. We’re happy to dedicate the serious and requisite amount of time to debate this and to have it voted on.
But I think if you look at the issue of something like taxes, I don’t think this is going to be resolved by Thursday or Friday. I think this is going to take some time and I think by definition the Senate and the House are going to be in town and will have plenty of time to act on a whole host of priorities for the American people.
Q Can I ask on China? China was saying that they wanted to have emergency consultations on North Korea. What’s the --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think I’d refer you largely to what the President said in Seoul a few weeks ago about the six-party talks. Six-party talks cannot substitute for action by North Korea to comply with its obligations and to cease its destabilizing actions on the Korean Peninsula. To use a phrase we’ve used in other talks, these are not talks for talking sake. These are -- these have to be met with a seriousness of all those involved about making progress on an issue.
We continue, as I said earlier, to call on China to urge North Korea to stop the destabilization. But I think there has to be a seriousness on the part of the North Koreans to get back to these talks.
Q Are emergency consultations then fine but inadequate, or actually not fine because it substitutes for --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think the President conferred with a number of our allies and partners. He’ll continue to do so. I do not think that, though, the six-party talks -- without an understanding and agreement from the North Koreans to both end their behavior as they exhibited last week but also to come to the table with a seriousness of purpose on the denuclearization issue -- without that seriousness of purpose, they’re just a PR activity. The United States and a host of others I don’t think are interested in stabilizing the region through a series of PR activities.
Q What would have to be done to show that this --
MR. GIBBS: I think the North Koreans need to demonstrate a seriousness of purpose in ending their aggressive behavior and also let the world know they’re serious about coming to the table and living up to the obligations that they signed up for but then walked away from.
Q Is there a way to do it that's not a PR thing, though? I mean, if they say, okay, we’re not shooting today, we’re serious about it -- (laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Yes, there is a seriousness of purpose that they have to this point and through their aggressive behavior of last week and over the past several months certainly not exhibited.
Q Right. I was wondering how you’d demonstrate the opposite of that.
MR. GIBBS: Well, that’s well within their power to do.
Christi, how was your weekend?
Q It was good until about five o’clock on Saturday -- on Friday afternoon. Thank you for asking.
MR. GIBBS: Just checking to see how --
Q Your quarterback should really win the Heisman.
Q Are you pro-BCS now? You’re supportive of the BCS?
MR. GIBBS: I think there’s one number team in the country right now, Chuck. And I’m just -- I wanted to make sure Christi had an enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday.
Go ahead, I’m sorry.
Q And your quarterback should really win the Heisman. Back on the leaked cables, is the U.S. considering moving anyone out of the field out of concern for their safety, either U.S. -- someone part of the diplomatic corps or people you’ve cooperated with --
MR. GIBBS: I would point you over to the State Department on the specifics of that answer.
Q And also, in terms of conversations that are taking place between this government and foreign governments, can you say anything about how other countries have reacted to this?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I’d also -- since those calls have happened at State, I’d point you to State on that.
Q Robert, two questions -- the first on the meeting tomorrow. Have there been any discussions, back-channel phone conversations between the President and any of these Republican leaders? Why do we have to put the spotlight on this sort of -- this big, highly publicized meeting? Have there been meaningful discussions on any of these issues?
MR. GIBBS: Let me check on what calls the President has made. I know that he, I believe, has talked to at least one of the Republicans since the -- since just the congratulatory calls on the election.
But I don’t -- when you say put a spotlight on the highly publicized -- we’re looking at this as a working meeting. We’re looking at this as a -- and always have -- as a way to begin a conversation on the priorities that are important not for one political party but for the American people. I’ll leave the spotlights to you guys.
Q Why does it have to take place in this sort of hothouse atmosphere as opposed to him having this -- beginning this new relationship in a way that doesn’t involve a hundred reporters staking out a meeting? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know if you guys want to get together and vote about not doing a readout and pictures around this and we can just do this in a substantive way. But I don’t actually work for a newspaper, Glenn.
Q Second question. On the -- there aren’t many jokes available. (Laughter.) On the WikiLeaks, there’s some information -- you mentioned that these are criminal acts. Is there anything to this notion that some of the disclosures, while clearly obtained through -- or allegedly obtained through a criminal act, actually help policymakers and the American people make better decisions? For instance, there’s a disclosure about a high-ranking Afghan official having $52 million in his possession. And as we know in the two previous document dumps, there were disclosures about civilian casualties. Do you think there is any good done by any of these three document dumps?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I’m not going to get into discussing the specifics of what might be in those reported documents. I think we have -- our administration has sought through executive order on classification, through a series of transparency moves, sought to involve the American people in the decision-making of government. And that’s something that is very important this President and to this administration.
I think, again, I’d point you to what the Secretary of State said. There is a need to have confidential and private discussions with a whole host of people when you’re conducting a robust foreign policy. That is important and that will always be important. I think the President believes there can be and should be a balance to that.
But at the same time, documents are classified a certain way based on the information that is in them and there are very specific rules and laws that have to be followed in handling that information and disseminating and talking about it. And that’s -- those are laws that everybody is compelled to and should follow.
Q Robert, on the Pentagon report, which is set for release tomorrow, has the President seen the report yet? Does he have any expectations for what impact it’s going to have on the repeal efforts in the lame duck session?
MR. GIBBS: I believe the President -- let me double-check on -- I believe the President has seen parts of, but I will double-check on that. I think the President right now is in the Oval Office meeting with the Joint Chiefs about this issue and about the report. We look forward to the presentation by Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen tomorrow, and then their testimony later in the week. I don’t want to get ahead of their putting the report out in terms of commenting. I will double-check as to see whether or not the President has indeed been briefed on or seen portions of the report.
Q And during this meeting that’s taking place right now, is the President going to attempt to convince the Joint Chiefs to come out in favor of a repeal in lame duck?
MR. GIBBS: Let me -- we will get you a readout from the meeting that I was going to be in but, through a series of schedule things, had to push this back. So I’ll get a readout from that meeting.
Q Over on the Senate, back in September a lot of senators said they were voting no on the defense authorization bill because they didn’t feel that the amendment process was fair. Has the White House issued Senator Reid any sort of guidance on how to handle the amendments when the bill comes up next time around?
MR. GIBBS: I mean, obviously I think they’ve made some decisions about some amendments and some amendments that will be taken out and voted on separately. I think Senator Reid has talked about that in terms of the DREAM Act. Let me add that to the list to talk with Legislative Affairs in terms of guidance that we’ve given to Senator Reid on it.
Q This September -- does this mean the President believes that the amendment process was fair that Senator Reid set up in September?
MR. GIBBS: I think that the President strongly believed that this was an issue that can, should -- can and should be solved legislatively; encouraged the Senate to act legislatively on the defense authorization bill, and particularly changing “don't ask, don't tell.” That's our position now and I don't anticipate that the release of the report will do anything but strengthen that case.
Q Thanks. So beyond the guidance we got from the Pentagon yesterday on classified information and sharing information and stuff, are there any additional executive orders or memoranda that President Obama has signed while in office that are now in and of themselves going to be rescinded, tweaked, looked at?
MR. GIBBS: Can you -- give me a couple of examples.
Q Well, I don't know. There were like five or -- I went through yesterday and started looking at them. And I just wasn’t sure whether the release from the Pentagon covered everything or whether there is additional stuff --
MR. GIBBS: Let me take that and check with NSC and get you --
Q Can I also ask --
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Thanks. So as a matter of course, the President is not making calls on WikiLeaks to leaders.
MR. GIBBS: Right.
Q Does that mean that as a matter of protocol, he will not discuss WikiLeaks with leaders? Like, for example, next time he talks to a leader of Pakistan, is it just not coming up? Just everyone has decided it’s not going to be discussed?
MR. GIBBS: As I said earlier, I don't doubt that -- my answer to the earlier question was based more on whether or not he had been making those calls, and that those were being handled at State through the Secretary of State and at the foreign minister level. I do not, though, doubt that it’s a topic that could come up, and if it does come up in his dealings next with foreign leaders, that he certainly will address it. I don't doubt that.
I think ensuring with our allies and our partners around the world that listening to whatever -- listening to their concerns and ensuring that confidential conversations are handled responsibly and confidentially is important to -- not just to those countries, but also to this President.
All right? Thanks, guys.
Q Thank you.
END 2:40 P.M. EST
January 19, 2016
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